Alou Kuol’s rise from playing in the Australian youth leagues to becoming Sven Mislintat’s next potential diamond in the rough, has been exciting.
Modern-day football is an intense business. The expectations from footballers are greater than ever before. When they step onto the pitch, the game has to be played with a laser-eyed focus.
And amidst all of this, some may forget to enjoy the moment they are in. Alou Kuol is unique in that sense. His characteristic smile is a trademark feature and an infectious trait.
A smile he has had since his early days playing in Australia.
And a smile that will serve him well in the long term. Especially, as he prepares to embark on the European stage in Germany.
FTF spoke to Craig Carley, Kuol’s former coach at Goulburn Valley Suns to trace the roots of the perpetually positive, Alou Kuol.
Happy go lucky Alou Kuol
Craig Carley has been around the football scene for a while now. After playing for various clubs in the lower divisions of English football, Carley moved to Australia.
‘I was involved with GV Suns when the club was first created. That year I was a senior player and also took on the U14 coaching role which Alou was a part of.
Coaching in general has always been a passion. When I was a player it was always about giving back to the younger players and coaching at a junior level but I always knew I wanted to be involved within a senior environment’, Craig recalls.
Much like Craig, Kuol was also part of the GV Suns’ set-up from a very early age.
Born in Khartoum, South Sudan, Kuol and his family moved to Egypt before coming to Sydney in 2005. Two years later, they moved to Shepparton, which is where Kuol’s football journey began.
Craig recalls training the young and joyful Kuol.
‘Alou was a part of the GV Suns from the very beginning at the U14 level. Alou was a very cheeky and happy-go-lucky kid. He was always smiling and absolutely loved his football.’
‘ I would say back then it was more fun for Alou rather than pursuing a career at that stage but he was such a funny young man with a really infectious smile.’
Ability to adapt to situations
In an interview with Benalla Ensigns, Kuol recalls playing in various positions for his team.
“In under-14s I played right back, but we were just chilling, they didn’t have a set position for me, so I just played anywhere they told me.”
As a coach, Craig was confident in Kuol’s ability to adapt to different situations.
‘Alou had the ability to adapt to absolutely any situation. During games back then I would play him at center back if we needed to keep a clean sheet or were under the pump and then you would throw him further up the pitch if you needed a goal’, he explained.
The experience of playing various positions at youth level has no doubt contributed to Kuol’s development.
Big family support for Alou Kuol
Kuol’s family is very much rooted in Australian football. Three of Kuol’s younger brothers are currently at GV Suns and are making a name for themselves.
The whole Kuol family has been through adversity on their road to the other side of the world. After leaving war-torn Khartoum, and spending a year in Egypt, they found new a home in Australia. Kuol is one of seven siblings, it’s one big happy family.
Craig speaks glowingly about them.
‘Alou’s whole family have a warmth around them. Even now whenever I bump into his parents they are always so happy.
‘Obviously, there has been some adversity previously for the family and I feel that the family have overcome so much in the past and that is reflected in his infectious personality.’
Players in the ilk of Kuol rarely go unnoticed and always leave a lasting impression on people. Such was the impact of Kuol’s character.
‘Whenever he would turn up to training he would have different handshakes with players and coaches alike and just a real aura about him, real confidence and he has really grown with that personality. He is an amazing young man.’
Love for Shepparton
In addition to his family, Kuol has also enjoyed a great deal of support from the warm community in Shepparton. Kuol himself has hailed the community as one of his biggest supporters.
‘Shepparton really is a special place. There is a real sense of community here – everyone knows everyone and to see someone local going on to good things fills everyone with pride,’ explains Craig.
‘It’s like we are all on this journey with Alou. The community has been massive for Alou. Everyone welcomes you with open arms and he has never missed out on any opportunities what so ever and that is why this place and club are so special.’
Craig especially underlines the family’s support for Kuol.
‘Whenever you see any of the Kuol kids you will always see a football and laughing and joking and kicking the ball around. It is rare to see in today’s society.’
‘His family has been massive and are a massive part of our community. Mum has helped out in the past by washing kits and both parents are always there watching their children play with a smile.’
From GV Suns to the Mariners
After scoring 22 goals in 26 games in 2019 with the GV Suns, Kuol made the move to join the Central Coast Mariners in 2019. Initially joining the Y-League( A-League youth competition) which was a considerable step up from the National Premier League 2.
The previous year saw him score 20 goals in 12 matches in the NPL2 U20s. Kuol’s stock was rising. A-League outfits including Melbourne Victory, Melbourne City, and Western United missed out on the opportunity to pick him up before the Mariners eventually did.
Before making that big switch to the A-League outfit, there was a learning curve for Kuol.
Learning curve for Alou Kuol
‘When he was first at the Suns he was very raw but you knew the talent was there. Alou had promise in the U20s squad but really lacked consistency in his game and probably I would say his base fitness was down,’ Craig recalls.
‘The U20s coach at the time done a great job with this and also worked with Alou a little on his finishing. He needed minutes on the pitch and was still developing physically.’
Once he came into the GV Suns senior side, Kuol realized the difference in levels. There was work to do for him to improve further.
‘Coming into the senior set up it was a lot faster and his game needed a bit of work in terms of his touch so Alou tended to play out wide,’ Craig explains.
‘I remember two games in particular with the u20s – I think he scored 7 or 8 in one game vs Box Hill and then the week after scored another 4 against Melbourne City who boasted some of the best kids in the country.’
Once he settled into the senior side, however, there was no stopping Alou Kuol.
Craig said, ‘ As soon as he made the senior squad on a regular basis there was no looking back and he started getting that consistency. His technical and tactical game improved, and I also believe his mental and psychological aspects also improved.’
‘He also had the belief that he could play at a higher level – certainly after destroying defenders that were supposedly some of the best in the state.’
Lasting impression and Mariners
If there is one thing that Alou Kuol knows, it’s to leave his audience with an impression. Before leaving GV Suns for the Mariners, that’s exactly what he did for Craig and his side.
‘ We were playing Bulleen away and he was 2 goals off the golden boot. Bulleen were flying and had a promotion playoff game the next week,’ Craig recalls.
‘We ended up winning 5-2 and Alou scored 4 goals that day. He was bullying seasoned center-backs. I was so proud of him for winning the top goalscorer award.’
Craig consequently recalls another special moment for Kuol.
‘Another proud moment was when the club received notification from South Sudan regarding an international call up and having that conversation with Alou.’
‘Just to see that his hard work was paying off and he was receiving the recognition he deserved.’
And so, after tearing it up in the NPL2. The A-League was the next mission for Kuol.
Then Mariners assistant coach Nick Montgomery had spotted Kuol playing for the GV Suns. It wasn’t too long before Kuol was drafted in for the Mariners’ Y-League side.
Once again, he excelled.
Scoring six goals in six matches, he further went on to have an excellent NPL pre-season period as well.
Kuol’s good form in the Y-League was followed by a brief trial period at Sporting Lisbon. It was another important learning curve for him at the time.
“I was with the 19s squad,” Kuol said, in an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald. “These kids were built different. Just different level, compared to Australia. Would not recommend. Not anytime soon, anyways.”
Mariners head coach Alen Stajcic took notice. Kuol was called up to the first-team.
Kuol’s excellent displays resulted in him being given a scholarship contract through to the end of the 2020/21 season. It was a proud moment for him and his family, who were there to bear witness to his first appearance at the GMHBA Stadium.
“As a kid I wanted to be able to say I was playing on TV, so to be able to do just that in front of my family and friends, I couldn’t ask for anymore. That’s the best thing ever to have my family there,” Kuol said, in a club interview.
If that first appearance was momentous, Kuol’s first-team debut was even more so. And what a match to do it in. The 50th edition of the F3 derby between the Newcastle Jets and Central Coast Mariners.
Although he wasn’t able to make an impact right away, his post-match interview was one to remember.
Kuol had to learn and improve to deliver for the Mariners’ first team. The improvement came gradually and the results were there to see. It’s something Craig always tried to instill in him, during his days at the GV Suns.
‘ Setting standards and attitude I know is something I was constantly trying to drive into Alou. He would always just do enough if that makes sense in training rather than really pushing himself further,’ Craig explains.
‘He has still got a long way to go developmental wise from a mental/psychological perspective but again I have no doubt he will get there. ‘
Exploding onto the A-League scene
It did not take long for Kuol to hit the ground running in the 2020/21 season.
Against the Newcastle Jets, Kuol scored the decisive goal in a 1-0 victory.
Ghosting in to steal the loose ball from the defender’s blind spot, Kuol headed it past the helpless keeper. Kuol’s awareness and sharpness was there for all to see. Getting to the loose ball first, winning his duel with the defender and scoring. This was Kuol’s first goal in the A-League.
In front of an ecstatic home crowd at the Central Coast Stadium, Kuol announced himself in the best manner possible.
The following games saw him deliver once again as a substitute. Scoring goals against Sydney FC and Wellington Phoenix as he continued to dazzle the A-League defenders he had dreamed of playing against just mere years ago.
The next highlight of his season was the brace against Western United. One of the few clubs that had passed up on the opportunity to sign Alou Kuol.
Two headed goals off the bench, Kuol had turned the tie around for his team. To fight back from 2-1 to 3-2, the three points belonged to the Mariners.
More than a goal-scorer
Though, to say Kuol is only effective in the penalty area would be doing him a disservice. The forward’s ability to find pockets of space to run into is impressive. Off the ball, he is an energetic presser when required to be and his pace allows him to stretch defenses in transition. He is not only able to attack space but also create space for others, with his runs.
Kuol’s hold-up play can look impressive as well. His upper-body strength and deft feet allow him to be effective at holding off pressure from opposition defenders.
Kuol being a blend of these qualities makes him an exciting prospect for the Bundesliga in the long-term.
In April this year, Kuol broke his drought to help the Mariners to another memorable comeback victory. This time against Adelaide United.
The celebrations after the goal showed just how much it meant to the team, the crowd and Kuol himself.
Although most of his minutes played came off the bench, Alou Kuol still racked up impressive numbers for the Mariners in 20/21.
Kuol’s tally of 0.59 non-penalty goals per90 was the third best of all A-league strikers in 20/21.
Not only that, Kuol also showed impressive numbers in terms of his shot-volume and activity in the opposition penalty area.
Averaging 2.7 shots per90, coupled with 3.7 touches in the opp. penalty area per90, make for an exciting read.
Not only this, Kuol’s prowess in the air is underlined by his aerial duel win rate of 48%. What’s even more impressive is that he engages in nearly 10 aerial duels per90.
For all the positives that Kuol has shown so far in his career, there is still plenty of room to grow.
Craig believes that Stuttgart could help him take that next step.
‘By no means is he the finished article just yet but he is developing and he will always score goals at whatever level he plays at. Alou will be just fine and will adjust just as he always has done.’
‘As I said previously he has a natural goal scoring ability and if other parts of his game can improve I think he can reach the very highest level. The world really is his oyster,’ says Craig.
Looking to the future
Kuol is now at pre-season camp with his new club and has made a positive start to his new chapter. Scoring in Stuttgart’s recent friendly against FSV Hollenbach.
Craig believes the Stuttgart move has been the defining moment of his career thus far.
‘Just going from semi professional to that environment in the short space of time has never been heard of and I don’t think it will be done again anytime soon.’
‘To go from playing for us banging in goals to 600 A League minutes later and signing for a big European side is something to be proud of,’he proudly claims.
Kuol has previously had to face the challenge of moving from one place to another. So he is no stranger to change, and Craig is confident that Kuol will be able to overcome barriers in Germany.
‘I certainly feel there will be some challenges for Alou. The winter weather, longer season, language barrier will all add to the challenge but I have no doubt he will overcome them.’
‘It may take him some time to adjust but I have no doubt he can go on to be a regular feature in the senior team,’ Craig affirms.
So the only question that remains is, how far can Alou Kuol go?
‘Alou can reach the very top. I hope one day to see him representing Australia or South Suda. But, in terms of club competition the sky is the limit.’ says Craig.
‘I for one certainly look forward to seeing Alou’s career develop.’
At 17, Alou Kuol was balancing his football career whilst being a popular kitchenhand at The Deck. This year, he will test himself in one of the finest leagues in the world.
He’ll do it all with a smile and his infectious energy, as he always has done.
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